Life in your twenties (or even any age) can often feel pretty confusing. You might be uncertain about what career path you want to pursue, whether to continue particular relationships, or even be indecisive about something as simple and innocuous about what to eat for dinner. Whilst some decisions are obviously more important than others (deciding what to have for dinner clearly being very important), there’s a certain glum feeling associated with being constantly ambivalent and confused about every aspect of your life. To add to this already uncertain environment, the coronavirus pandemic (ever heard of it?) seemingly upended all our of lives in 2020, creating the impetus for even more anxiety, stress and confusion.
Even without considering the coronavirus, perhaps feelings of uncertainty and the associated glumness are more common in contemporary times where choice and freedom are at an all time high. If you consider the scope of choices your ancestors had about what careers they could do, where they could travel, and what relationships they could form, you realise that they were significantly limited compared to us. If you are limited in choice then you don’t need to agonise over the correct decision to make, and you’re probably more likely to feel a sense of ease and contentment. Nowadays, and I speak from the perspective of a first-world westerner, we have a vast range of choices that we can make regarding every aspect of our lives. We aren’t as limited with our career options, where we can travel or what relationships we can form.
Of course there’s no denying the positive aspects of such societal progress, but it also does help explain why there are so many of us who are unsure about the direction they want their life to head. If you consider this in the context of social media, particularly instagram, where you are constantly subjected to surreal images of people living luxurious and amazing lives, you begin to feel even more unsure about your mundane existence. I myself have obtained a degree from university in law and subsequent graduate position at a law firm. Despite me taking these necessary steps to beginning a career and hopefully become settled and established in my particular field, I am still often riddled with doubt, confusion and unhappiness.
Based on my experiences I believe there are ways you can overcome these feelings in the short-term, in order to alleviate any immediate stress and anxiety that are often associated with these type of existential problems. One of the ways many people cope with these feelings is by scrolling aimlessly on instagram or facebook, which often just reinforces the negative thoughts swirling around in your mind. The unrealistic images of overtly happy and care-free individuals sprawled on the sand on a tropical island makes it seem as though everyone has their lives together but you. This fantasy-land is exactly that – an unrealistic and heavily curated portrayal of lives that don’t even exist. Arguably, there are far more practical and productive things you can do to get our of this mental funk without ending up in an addictive and energy-zapping instagram scroll. Here are my top three tips for overcoming these type of dreadful feelings.
Snap out of the endless scroll
If you’re mulling over in your head these negative thoughts and you’ve grabbed your phone for a distraction, this piece of advice might sound a bit counterintuitive to you. I understand the addictive nature of social media and your smart phone. When you grow up with MSN, Myspace, Facebook and now Instagram, you feel as though social media has always had, and will always have, such a ubiquitous and significant presence in your life. It is a huge challenge going several hours without scrolling through your phone. It’s as though we have an innate need within us to look at other people’s lives on a screen, to receive virtual compliments in the form of “likes” and to communicate daily with friends regarding a topic bereft of substance. I know if I haven’t gotten my daily dose of memes or I haven’t assessed the new uploads on instagram from people I follow (and compared my dreadfully average life to everyone else’s glamorous one), then I feel like something is missing in my day.
But let me ask you this. How often do you feel better after scrolling through instagram? Have you ever felt genuinely positive and fulfilled after seeing all these pictures of beautiful people living stunning lives with captions about as unique as a Lynx spray in a Christmas hamper? I would say 99% of the time after I have been scrolling aimlessly on instagram I feel a sense of inadequacy and gloominess. Furthermore, scrolling through instagram intensifies my uncertainty. It makes me question every decision I’ve ever made. “Why didn’t I wear THAT to my 21st?” , “Should I be doing that exercise at the gym instead?”, “Why is my job so horrible compared to hers?”. These thoughts constantly whirl around my brain as i’m looking at the live’s of other people, and let me tell you it is quite unpleasant. If you are the same, I would suggest you gather the willpower to stop scrolling. Do it for your mental health. It’s so easy just to sit on your bed and look at these pretend lives on social media for several hours. You need to take the challenging option if you want to stop feeling uncertain and miserable. Try and do absolutely anything else besides scrolling through instagram or other social media websites (okay i don’t mean ABSOLUTELY anything, obviously don’t go murder a family or antagonise a starving lion). Watch an informative documentary, paint a picture, go for a bike-ride, iron your bloody clothes. Seriously, I implore you to stop scrolling and see how different you feel about your life. There’s no point living life feeling inadequate because a heavily edited photo appears better than your face in the mirror.
Go do something practical and positive, right now.
I find that when you’re caught up in these mental cycles where you’re constantly going over and over in your head about what you’re doing with your life, where you want to be etcetera, all you are doing is just repeating unhelpful and unnecessary words. Whilst it can be good to self-reflect occasionally, there’s something extremely maladaptive and useless about constantly thinking about how uncertain you are in life. Yes there are many problems you will face in life which can be overcome my applying mental rigour and hard-work to the task, but it is my opinion that the longer you think about your uncertainty in life, the more uncertain you’ll feel. Rather than sitting on your bed thinking intently about your life, what I suggest you do is go do something practical and positive. This might involve riding your bike to go and get ice-cream, painting a bookcase, or cooking a delicious meal (or an alright meal, you’re not Gordon Ramsay…) for your Mum/partner/dog, or even yourself. How much better do you feel when you actually engage in a task that diverts your attention from life’s stresses and makes you feel useful and happy?
I understand there will be some restraints on being able to apply this tool all of the time, particularly when lockdowns are occurring in your area. Moreover, it is often the case that you think the most about your life when it’s late at night and you are in bed. You can’t exactly start making your Mum dinner or paint a bookcase at midnight or your family might think you’re a bit of a weirdo. In these circumstances, it is still possible to distract yourself and do something practical and positive, such as reading a book, listening to some peaceful music or even engaging in a little bit of meditation. Even putting on an educational or self-development podcast can be far more useful than doing nothing because whilst you may still be thinking about yourself, they often provide useful information or prompts to point you in the right direction. The point is, try and focus on doing something, rather than just thinking your life away.
Start thinking more about the genuine people in your life
I don’t know whether it’s just me, but i’ve come to realise I think a LOT about myself and how everything affects me. I mean, obviously it’s human nature to think about yourself, how a certain situation might benefit you, or what you should be doing with your life generally. But there comes a point where you need to realise that the universe isn’t solely dependent on your existence. Whilst it can be sad to realise that you are a mere tiny portion of this Earth, it might be comforting to know that a lot of what we do is remarkably insignificant and won’t have any bearing on, well, anything. So if you’re thinking to yourself “Man, I have no idea what i’m doing and I am so bad at my job” then you need to understand that you are only the centre of YOUR universe. There are so many other people you can think about and help. Rather than thinking about your problems, perhaps channel your mental energy in helping your Grandparents with their gardening, or how you can be of more assistance to a co-worker. You can text your sister and ask her how she’s doing or send her a link to a new set of tights that you think she’d like. When you start to consider the REAL people in your lives, and start re-directing your thoughts away from yourself, you may find that you forget about your problems and life’s uncertainties. By being more thoughtful towards genuine people, you may find that you don’t have room in your brain for insecurities and anxiety. And who knows, you might just figure out your life along the way, without having to formulate a clear and defined path.